Strategy –Finding Your Place

Without a winning strategy your journey has no destination and success would be an accident –they do happen but are unlikely.

At the foundation of strategy is finding a need for a good or service that is either solving a problem or creating a benefit that customers want and will pay enough for you to allow you to profit.

Understanding a market by the fundaments is an important first step.

There are 4 questions:

  1. What is the Market?
  2. Why does the Market exist?
  3. Who are the Leaders?
  4. How will you carve out you niche?

What is the market answers the question of what is being provided to meet a need of consumers of such value that there is a demand. For instance farmers grow the food that people must have unless they grow it themselves or restaurants are a market that serves prepared food. Both meet a defined need.

Why the Market exists is about understanding why the need exists and how that need is addressed. Farmers are needed because in much of today’s society people don’t grow their own food. Restaurants exist to serve people that can’t or don’t want to buy food and prepare it for a variety of reason.


Who are the leaders is about understanding how the market is currently being serviced by the major players of each definitive market segment. This is the understandings who, currently, are the major participants such as Kroger, WalMart or McDonalds. These players are market leaders in their respective category. There is great diversity on market segments, how providers service specific consumer groups, and who owns consumer mindshare within each category.

And finally how will you position your product or service to capture enough business to be successful by defining a unique offering and hopefully defendable position. By understanding the why the market exists the provider can position to meet the needs of specific consumer preferences. You don’t need to be the biggest to own a segment, but, you have to be unique enough to carve out your dominance and meet your segments consumer’s preferences. For instance Trader Joes does not compete with Kroger for selection or price but instead attracts and serves  a specific customer group.

While the questions are simple the answers can be very complex and challenging. Successfully understanding the questions is essential to the crafting of the winning strategy for your organization. Strategy is about making informed choices and commitments that must concisely defined in your organization’s vision before the execution can be undertaken to successful achieve the strategy. Yes there is order in the universe.

Strategic Plan -Implementation Challenges

One of the biggest challenges that organizations face is finding the time to implement the major initiatives that were developed during the planning process. In many cases the amount of time and effort required to put the vision into practice is under estimated and beyond realistic given the demands on already on your key resources. As a result critical business initiatives will go uncompleted and the gain unrealized.

“Almost anything can be accomplish given the time and resources required to implement”

In my experience organizations put 90% of the effort into strategy creation and the remaining 10% into the implementation plan. This kind of “figure it out on the fly” thinking places a huge burden on already busy key resources to find the time after the fact to develop implementation plans. Spending the time on implementation isn’t near as exciting as coming up with ideas but it is every bit as important. In practice the breakdown should be more 50 -50.

Here are some best practices for your consideration:

  1. Spend the appropriate time on developing a realist implementation plan defining the who, what, and when details using SMART objectives format. In reality the plan is a series of projects and should be run like projects.
  2. Priorities and synchronize business initiatives. I recommend using a reverse engineering process to plan out the appropriate order that the initiatives should be addressed. Creating a roadmap and breaking the initiatives into 90 day time buckets will help keep the plan active and on schedule. Formal reviews maintain accountability and plan status. Every organization is different so the speed of change should fit with the circumstances of your business.
  3. Take a hard look at the time and resources required. If you need a skill or technology to accomplish an objective that you either don’t have or is not available plan how this roadblock will be overcome before commiting.
  4. Consider dedicating a resource to managing the overall plan. Having someone with the responsibility to oversee the plan will ensure focus and any issue or obstacles get immediate attention and resolution.
  5. Identify time spent on lesser priority projects than can be reallocated to the more urgent business requirements. Every plan should have a STOP list.
  6. Your plan should have as an objective on improving operational efficiency and error reduction. This is an ongoing initiative that deserves continuous focus.

In the diagram below I have identified the four ways time is spend in organizations.Planning is time spend developing policies and practices. Execution is performing those policies and practices. Fire Fighting is time spend correcting errors that have occurred because policies and practices were either not performed correctly or are not defined. Crisisis time spent by managerial level resources to fix major customer impacting or costly operational errors.

Look Backwards to Learn How to Move Forward -Learn From or Repeat Your History

Leaders must understand their organizations capabilities both good and bad. This assessment is crucial to the success of any change initiative. The best way to do this is to examine the past history of their organization’s ability to plan and execute.

“Leaders who use the let’s try it again approach expecting to achieve a different more positive result are true optimists but poor leaders.”

I like to say anything is possible and made more likely through proper planning and solid execution. Realism begins with a true understanding of the gap between the present state and the desired future state, specifically, what is the required time, talent and tools / processes to bridge the gap.

Change requires critical thinking and involves hard choices. Leaders must understand that resources are limited and the organizations ability to change will be limited by the choices of what needs to start, be continued or stopped. Truth is you can not keep doing the same things and expect change to successfully occur.

“Ambition will not become accomplishment unless you address the organizations shortfalls and mitigate them.”

Will I firmly believe success belongs to those doing the work and short comings belong to the leader the successful leader must determine the way froward. It is the responsibility of the leadership to determine and address the performance gaps.

“Leadership involves hard choices and the responsibility to successfully sell them to the organization”

The organization that points fingers to avoid accountability will fail. Specifically when managements blames the workers and the employees blame management accountability is ambiguous and non-existent. Leadership must have the hard conversations and forge mutual ownership of problem solving with the employees to understand and address the performance gap.

For employee engagement to occur two questions have to be asked and answered. First, what is in it for the employee to accept the change and secondly, what is the employee expected to do. It is with this clarity that leadership can sell the needed changes.

True Leadership Trumps

So true. True leaders find the path forward by inspiring their organizations to take the appropriate actions to push forward. In truth adversity inspires the creativity, innovation and determination that differentiates the winning organizations from those whom live on life support. It begins with having solid strategy

2018 Strategic Planning

As you prepare for 2018 planning its essential you understand these 3 realities.  1. Time is your most valuable asset. 2. This coming year is not new its a continuation of this year’s efforts 3. Dynamic transformation is possible ( only If you have a real plan).

What Makes Your Strategy Real

Decision Making Awareness: Red Light / Green Light


Scenario One

You walk up to an intersection and the light is green. You have the right away. As you walk across the intersection a fast-moving car runs the red light and kills you!

Scenario Two

You walk up to an intersection and the light is red. You do not have the right away but you risk it. As you walk across the intersection a fast-moving car drives through the intersection on his green light and kills you!


The result is the same you’re dead. And so it goes with decision-making, following the basic rules is seldom sufficient. In my experience, whether making the decision based on generally accepted principles or taking the risk and breaking the rules, both, can get you in trouble if you don’t see the blind spot. In the scenarios above neither considered the oncoming car, perhaps the most important variable. We made the assumption the car driver was playing by the same (our) rules.

Blind Spot

Avoiding the “blind spot” thinking trap means looking at all the variables and applying judgement. For instance, in the above scenario was the driver of the oncoming car acting appropriately? Was the vehicle slowing down? Was there any acknowledgement by the driver showing awareness that someone was crossing the intersection? This is basic commonsense, which often, isn’t so common after all.

Reliability and Awareness

The best definition of reliability is “understanding all the causes of reliability and mitigating them”. In decision-making this means understanding all the factors and considerations and remaining in a state of readiness.  Key assumptions or expectations need to be continuously monitored and updated based on results to date.

Real World Thinking –Airline Policy Example

As we have learned from the recent events occurring in the airline industry, operating by standard policy can be disastrous. In these events, the passengers, in some cases, were not playing by the assumed rules and while the airlines though they were in the right they were clearly proven wrong in the court of public opinion. Did the airlines plan for dealing with uncooperative passengers? If they did and I believe they do, did the actions taken in line with their policy? Obviously this policy needs refinement.

Agility and Adaptability Decision Making Guidelines

Following are five guidelines I recommend to ensure your decision-making is “Real World Ready”.

1.      Policies are guidelines that show a path / process to the desired results, they are not the unbreakable rules of engagement.

2.      Leadership must be aware of potential conflicts of interest of key stakeholders, and have mitigation protocols in place to allow for appropriate discretion to be taken.

3.      All decisions (guidelines) have four components: 1)The goal or outcome to be achieved, 2) Defined Strategy / Tactics to be used, 3) Deployment of the Process, 4) and an Active Feedback Loop. A formal process must exist where evaluation of the success of the decision / guideline / policy can be evaluated and lessons learned incorporated. I can guarantee you this was not the first time the airlines were made aware of the issues and concerns of the passengers to the existing policies. And to be fair the airline industry is certainly not alone here.

4.      Empowerment of the employees to allow for agility and adaptability to on the ground events. This means allowing the employees to make the final decision where discretion is required.

5.      Active communication loops to ensure awareness and process reliability can be assured. Successful organizations have to be ready and flexible to changing environments and factors, Remember what worked yesterday may not work today.

So the next time you make a decision to walk across that traffic intersection, red light or green, remember the yellow light and execute the caution and awareness needed to ensure you can remain agile and adaptable enough to reach the other side

Dazed and Confused

It is not uncommon to find employees in a dazed and confused state. My observation is employees are, in some cases, under served by their manager. They lack both the clarity and support to perform their jobs successfully. Shocking is the fact many organizations turn a blind eye to under performing managers and assign blame for failure to the lowest level. So the above slides is my attempt to right the wrong.

Slide one is about awareness of the gap between the expected versus the actual performance to the job description. If we know what is required why would we accept something less? Getting the facts out in the open is the start. Implementing an improvement initiative works best when clear facts are used versus generalizations or opinions.

Slide two is a five point approach to ensuring the employee gets the definition, support, training, timely feedback and their purpose / role in the organization’s success defined.

Slide three is the three questions used to ensure the employee gets clear goals and the outcomes expected. If the employee can answer these questions both they and their manager are aligned. The employee has clarity as does the manager as to the level of understanding and capabilities of their employee. The manager has insight as to where the employee is and can contribute /support the employee’s success. This is a real-time saver with a huge payback. Not only does the initial kickoff have clarity the foundation is laid for ongoing discussions.

Slide four is the measurement model. It’s a sliding scale as to where the employee is in their ability to perform their job as defined in the job description. The theory is for the organization to attain optimal results responsibilities not achieved by the employee must be performed by the manager. Realistically much of the result goes unrealized as the manager can’t completely do the employee’s job, although they try. This tools measures both the employee and the managers ability to performance , as well as, facilitating a reconciliation back to the job definition.

The goal here is to continually grow the employee’s ability and confidence to perform their job or complete the project and provide insight as to the effectiveness / abilities of the manager. When I find a struggling employee I then look at the manager and if they are ineffective then their manager and so on. In short, the buck stops at level where the issue is owned and acted on.

Finally what is the so what why should you care. The benefits list is long and meaningful. Everything from higher employee engagement, lower costs, higher profits, happier customers to reduced turn over and so much more. What we are talking about is high quality bi-directional conversation around how the resources of business work together to achieve the best possible outcome. As Stephen Covey states, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Clearly so much is sacrificed through ineffective communications, We have so much to gain by ensuring clarity and understanding!